Talking Dirty: Tags, Paragraphs, and Commas

Pardon me, for this blog post contains sexually explicit examples or content. If you are under the age of 18 or just uncomfortable with sexually explicit material, you may want to check out one of these sites about grammar and writing instead.

Dialogue Tags

A dialogue tag has two objectives:

To identify the speaker: “I’m coming,” Jill said.

To describe any concurrent action: “I’m almost there!” Jackie said, arching her back.

Refer to my post about Mike Sirota’s dialogue workshop for some great advice about how and when to use dialogue tags. For example, Sirota points out that you don’t need to attach a tag to every single line of dialogue. Maybe the dialogue itself communicates who’s speaking and what else is going on.

For instance, the exchange above already gives us enough information to know that Jill must be the speaker of the next line:

“I’m coming,” Jill said.

“I’m almost there!” Jackie said, arching her back.

“Thanks for letting me come first. And on my belly no less!”

Additionally, we get a picture of Jill on her belly without adding a dialogue tag to tell us about it.

Paragraph Breaks

Each new speaker and each change of speaker requires a paragraph break. When you surround your dialogue with lots of action or other narration, strategize paragraph breaks that will help the reader follow who’s speaking.

“I’m coming,” Jill said.

“I’m almost there!” Jackie arched her back and smiled. She pressed harder on her clit, hummed a little, and then burst with joy and satisfaction. Both women laughed.

“Thanks for letting me come first. And on my belly no less!”

“My pleasure.”

Jill rolled over and reached for the Hitachi Magic Wand, which was plugged in and tucked between the nightstand and the bed. She batted her lashes at Jackie. “Shall we have another? Just for kicks?”

Take a look at that final paragraph break decision. Grammatically speaking, we could have held out until Jill’s line, “Shall we . . .” but that would be confusing. The reader will assume that the subject performing action adjacent to quoted material is also the speaker. So, when the action shifts, start a new paragraph.

Comma Sense

Most writers have some trouble punctuating dialogue. When I pickup an unedited manuscript, I usually find that writers have trouble punctuating the relationship between quoted words and dialogue tags or adjacent narrative.

Here’s the dialogue from above, with some typical, confused, and incorrect punctuation:

“I’m coming.” Jill said.

“I’m almost there,” Jackie arched her back and smiled. She pressed harder on her clit, hummed a little, and then burst with joy and satisfaction. Both women laughed.

“Thanks for letting me come first. And on my belly no less!”

“My pleasure.”

Jill rolled over and reached for the Hitachi Magic Wand, which was plugged in and tucked between the nightstand and the bed. She batted her lashes at Jackie, “Shall we have another? Just for kicks?”

Since you can see the correct punctuation for this dialogue in the Paragraph Breaks section above it, take a moment to study the difference.

Correct placement of commas and terminating punctuation in your dialogue requires that you understand direct objects and transitive verbs. Subscribe now to read more on those topics, more Sexy Grammar, and more about Jackie and Jill in tomorrow’s post.


It’s Dialogue Month on The Sexy Grammarian’s Blog! This week’s posts focus on punctuating dialogue, and next week, I bring you a series of actual dialogues between the The Sexy Grammarian and a parade of grammar, sex, and communications experts.

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  1. Yay! I love this! It’s so true, you nailed all the dialogue punctuation problems. This post should be required reading for all writers of dialogue.

    Also, I’m going to start adding “And on my belly no less!” to every sentence.

    • M., I’m delighted to delight you! Just you wait for tomorrow, when I REALLY break it down for you.

      And I haven’t forgotten your question. I’ve got it scheduled to post next week.

  2. wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    great lesson! and such language makes you learn the lesson!:)

  3. Thanks, Susan!That’s definitely the point of Sexy Grammar–to help you learn grammar rules by engaging you with surprising, sexy examples. I’m so glad it’s working!

  1. March 12th, 2012

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